Energy Crisis? What Energy Crisis?

  • Date: 01/12/10

Energy shortage? No way…
Methane Clathrate deposits per USGS

Methane Clathrate deposits per USGS

Original Image

Japan has very little natural source of energy. As a consequence, they have been at the forefront of such things as getting Uranium from sea water (which they have now made practical to do, though it’s still a tiny bit more expensive than land based resources so we don’t actually do it yet).

Their latest seems to be some improved methods for methane clathrate production. Methane clathrate is an ‘ice’ made by combining water ice with methane. It has some ‘interesting’ properties, not the least of which is that if forms at great depth in the oceans where the cold / pressure curve crosses the ice point. So under the ocean there are truly gigantic quantities of methane clathrate. At present, we do not treat these as a ‘resource’ at all. As far as energy reserves is concerned, they simply do not exist. Yet they are there. (Nothing nefarious in that. It’s just how economic reserves is defined. If it’s not economical to use, it does not exist for practical economic purposes.)

How Much?

For a LLNL news posting we have:

Researchers discover ice that resists melting

While performing studies of methane clatrate, a material viewed as a potential energy source, scientists produced a mysterious phenomenon-ice that does not liquefy when heated well beyond its usual melting temperature. The energy stored in methane clathrate deposits on Earth has been estimated at twice that in all conventional hydrocarbon deposits of oil, gas, and coal.

The discovery occurred while researchers-Bill Durham of Lawrence Livermore and Laura Stern and Stephen Kirby of the U.S. Geological Survey-were experimenting with a new method for synthesizing methane clathrate, a solid compound of water and methane occurring on Earth and possibly on the icy moons of the outer solar system. Clathrate refers to the compound’s porous lattice-work structure.

In a project funded by NASA, the team mixed fine, granular ice and cold, pressurized methane gas in a constant-volume reaction vessel that was slowly heated under strictly regulated conditions. Curiously, the scientists found that the ice did not liquefy as predicted when the melting temperature was reached and surpassed. Clathrate was formed only after many hours, with the temperatures inside the reaction vessel reaching above 50&degree;F before the last of the ice was consumed (the researchers never did see melting) as part of the process.

The three scientists concluded that a kind of “chemical armoring effect” accompanying clathrate formation suppresses the melting of the ice. They are hopeful that their new method of producing methane clathrates will pave the way for further experimentation and a better understanding of this phenomenon. Their findings were published in the September 27 issue of Science magazine.
Contact: Bill Durham (510) 422-7046 (

Original Source

OK, got that? MORE than all the other fossil fuels combined. That’s a lot…

But we’ve not been able to ‘produce’ it in any reasonable way. Why? Well, remember the BP oil spill in the gulf? How the “dome” tended to ‘ice up’ and clog? That was methane clathrate ice. And the blowout itself may have been partly due to clathrates. The drilling may destabilize them and result in a giant sudden gasification. A “blow out”. So one of the issues is how to get this stuff out without blowing out.

From this link:

I found this interesting chart:

Gas Hydrates compared to other Carbon Stores

Gas Hydrates compared to other Carbon Stores

There are two very interesting points in it. First, that hydrates so dominates the non-rock carbon sources. Second, that ‘footnote’ that says they left the rocks out as they are 1000 times more carbon. (Yet we are supposed to panic about the small amount of carbon we burn even while the planet recycles vastly more carbonate via volcanoes and subduction zones. Carbon is dominated by the geology, and by gas hydrates, and certainly not people. If you’ve not worked out the geology and the gas hydrate recycling, you’ve got no clue what caused past changes in CO2 or in C12 / C13 ratios. Then, after that, you can approach the question of what’s happening in the soils and ditritus of the world… )

Enter Japan and Canada

In this story:

we have:

Arctic’s ‘fiery ice’ is potential new energy source

The Gazette, 15 November 2010

For the Japanese, drilling down through Arctic permafrost to get at “fiery ice” was much less daunting than boring into the deep sea.

They came up with $48 million — with $3 million from Canada — for an epic experiment in the Northwest Territories that has generated tantalizing evidence, to be detailed in Tokyo this week, that frozen gas hydrates may live up to their billing as a plentiful new energy source.

The Canadian and Japanese team will describe how they got the hydrates to release gas, like bubbles out of champagne. In a world first, the team got a production well to generate a steady flow of gas for six days, fuelling a flame in the Arctic darkness.

“The message is quite clear, you can produce gas hydrates using conventional techniques,” says Scott Dallimore, a senior scientist at Natural Resources Canada, who co-led the project in the Mackenzie Delta.
Over two winters the researchers drilled down more than a kilometre into a 150-metre-thick layer on the edge of the Beaufort Sea at Mallik — the most concentrated known deposit of the frozen fuel in the world.

“It’s a landmark, no doubt about it,” says Ray Boswell, technical manager of the U.S. government’s gas hydrate program. Boswell will be taking close notes Tuesday as Dallimore and his Japanese colleagues describe how the well and hydrates responded as the gas was freed.

Previous experiments have produced gas from hydrates for a few hours. Mallik’s steady, sustained flow for six days “is very good news,” says Boswell, who is optimistic gas hydrates may one day heat homes and fuel vehicles.

So there is a load of it, and they produced gas for several days in their first big test. I’ve bolded some bits:

Wednesday, 24 November 2010 10:41 Takeo Kumagai, Platts

Global estimates “range from merely jaw-dropping to the truly staggering,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Canada is believed to have enough hydrates along its coasts to meet the country’s energy needs for a couple of hundred years.

Japan looks to offshore methane hydrates to cut reliance on energy imports – Japan, which imports more than 95% of its carbon-based fuel needs in the form of oil, gas or coal, has for decades looked for the means to reduce its reliance on foreign suppliers and increase its energy security. It’s one of the reasons Japan, the world’s largest importer of LNG, has been so adamant in staking its claim to the possible gas reserves underneath the waters surrounding the various disputed isles of the East China Sea.

Now, fortune and technology may be smiling on the energy-poor country, with the discovery of an unconventional energy source that could possibly provide it with enough gas to meet its demand for 14 years. Japan, at least, has been working with that hope ever since itconfirmed 40 trillion cubic feat of methane hydrates in the southern Sea of Kumano in 2007.

So Japan has a load of it, and they are looking to produce it.

Next month Japan takes another step toward that goal, with the start of a four-month-long site survey for a four-well drilling project that runs from October 2011 to March 2012. If all goes well, a year later the survey and the wells will result in what Japan says will be the world’s first offshore production test of methane hydrates, with commercial output to start by 2018.

However, unlike technologies used in the faster-than-expected development of shale gas in the US, the technology for extracting usable fuel from Japan’s methane hydrates is still in the developmental stage.

In March 2008, for six consecutive days, Japan was able to extract gas from hydrates using a decreasing pressure system to produce 2,000 cubic meters of gas a day, at the Mallik site in Canada’s Beaufort Sea. That represents only a small fraction of the amount of gas Japan consumes daily.

Under current plans, Japan aims to reach a gas output level of around 10,000 cubic meters/day during next year’s production test, but its priority would be given to collect data rather than reaching a certain level of production, according to government officials.

Once Japan completes the first offshore production test in fiscal 2012-2013, the government will scrutinize the collected data in the following fiscal year, with an eye to launch the second offshore output test in fiscal 2014-2015.

After that, the next challenge would be lowering production costs of methane hydrates to make it competitive against the nearly 70 million metric tons of LNG that Japan imports yearly.

If Japan can lower the methane hydrates output costs to the point of offshore production platforms, it could be made competitive against LNG by bringing it ashore via pipelines to its nearest coasts.

Notice that even though there is more of it than anything else in the fossil fuels arena, it all comes down to lowest cost to produce. IFF Japan can get the costs low enough, then all that energy is held to exist as a ‘reserve’, if they can’t, it doesn’t “exist”. The flip side of this is that as OTHER energy sources rise in price (due, perhaps, to depletion) at some point the cost curves do cross and suddenly we have more than double world energy reserves.

Somehow this definitional aspect of energy “supply” is lost on the folks who like to panic about “running out”. We never “run out” or energy, we just change the energy source…

In Conclusion

This implies that even as the current glut of natural gas tails off, there is a gigantic supply just waiting in the wings. I’d not bet on natural gas rising to high prices and staying there any time soon. There can be small seasonal spikes and, due to the costs and monopoly character of pipelines and LNG facilities, there can be local and geographic spikes. But long term there is just a gigantic supply overhang.

Energy shortage? No way…

Musings from the Chiefio, 30 November 2010

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